Lavine Hudson: The life and death of a British gospel diva

Saturday 15th April 2017

Tony Cummings pays tribute to gospel and R&B singer LAVINE HUDSON

Lavine Hudson
Lavine Hudson

The sad news that Lavine Hudson died on Thursday, 6th April failed to get much, if any, media attention. Yet for a period in the late '80s Lavine was British gospel music's premier star and the act that music industry observers predicted would one day become "Christian music's answer to Whitney Houston". Yet despite major label albums, a hit on America's R&B chart, regular TV appearances and a large number of pop stars admiring Lavine's richly soulful vocals, stardom remained just out of reach for the hugely talented singer and songwriter.

Lavine was one of six children born in the 1960s to Pastor Austin and Elaine Hudson. She first sang solo in church at the age of seven and perfected her gift in her father's COGIC congregation in Stockwell, London. She grew up listening to the music of Aretha Franklin, Andrae Crouch and the Clark Sisters. Then, at the tender age of 14 she joined The Harmonisers, the group formed in the early '60s by Icilda Cameron and who by the early '70s were well-established on Britain's growing Afro-Caribbean church scene, even recording an independent album in 1971. By 1979 The Harmonisers had a new lineup with three singers and a bunch of instrumental accompanists. One of those singers was Lavine Hudson, together with Angela Henriques and June Blake. The group were signed to Pilgrim Records (achieving Christian bookshop success with acts like Mary McKee & The Genesis and Parchment but who had no experience in black gospel). As it turned out the deal didn't go too far. Although The Harmonisers were the first black British gospel group to perform on the mainstage at Greenbelt, the Pilgrim Records deal languished at demos only stage and The Harmonisers went their separate ways soon after the Greenbelt appearance.

Lavine went on to sing with both the COGIC Mass Choir and Bazil Meade's London Community Gospel Choir. Leaving school she worked at Lloyds Bank but keen to pursue a career in music applied to join London School Of Music. Her application was rejected. Lavine subsequently told Totally Gospel, "[They said] 'You can sing, but we don't like the lyrics and you sound too black. You should think white if you want to succeed.' I just replied, 'I won't dilute the lyrics for nobody. I am black and if I'm going to succeed it will be because the Lord will have it so, not because I had to think white.'" In 1983, Hudson moved to Boston, USA where she worshipped at the COGIC church Good Shepherd. Her church family raised money for her to enrol at the renowned Berklee College of Music.

After her education Hudson returned to England. There she became a featured singer on British TV's pioneering People Get Ready series, the first time UK TV audiences have ever been exposed to the thrilling sounds of Britain's emerging black gospel scene. Lavine was courted by Virgin Records and in 1988 the singer's debut album 'Intervention' was released. It was a stunning album. Wrote Mike Rimmer for Cross Rhythms, "The mighty Virgin Records signed her to a multi-album deal that left her with complete artistic control and it seemed that finally we might have a gospel star able to have mainstream success without compromising the message. The title cut is very much of its day and an excellent piece of perfect soulful pop with a message. Other highlights include 'Celebrate Salvation' which musically sounds like something Luther Vandross might have recorded at the time. The gospel love song 'Flesh Of My Flesh', penned by Leon Patillo, became a favourite at weddings. 'Material World' is another sparkling '80s production and the ballads 'Learning How To Love' and 'Create In Me' both hit the spot. Ultimately this is great British '80s soul married to uncompromising gospel lyrics culminating in the gorgeous 'Does Jesus Care' which closes the album."

The Harmonisers c 1978
The Harmonisers c 1978

'Intervention' didn't sell particularly well in the UK even with Virgin releasing a 12 inch dance mix of the title track. However, in the US the title song reached the R&B charts and the album climbed to number 19 on the top 40 album sales chart. But it was hardly the Platinum seller the label were hoping for. For her followup album Virgin assigned much of the production to Rhett Lawrence whose credits included Maria Carey, Bee Gees and Barbra Streisand. No expense was spared in the production of 'Between Two Worlds'. Lavine was to tell Cross Rhythms magazine, "Virgin said to me, 'Who would you most like to work with?' So I quoted all these names like Quincy Jones and all these people and I just threw in Phil Collins' name, because 'Another Day In Paradise' was out at the time and I loved that. So I said, 'Oh yeah, and Phil,' not really thinking that I would get him. To me he's up there, you know. A couple of weeks later the A&R guy came back and said, 'Phil will do it'. We got together and Phil said he had some songs left over from 'But Seriously' and I should go through them and see if there was anything I liked. . . If there wasn't he would write something for my voice. I heard 'All I Need' and fell in love with it because it was such a simple melody line. That's what I love about his stuff, and the words really meant a lot to me. . .So we used it."

Unfortunately, 'Between Two Worlds' was neither a creative or sales success. Despite Phil Collins adding his name to the package, Phillip Bailey and BeBe Winans providing some BVs, and Carl Macintosh of Loose Ends co-writing and producing one of the most commercial sounding cuts, "Hold On Through The Night", 'Between Two Worlds' didn't sell. It turned out it was the last album in Lavine's short recording career. Lavine began to struggle with lupus and effectively retired from the world of show business. Over the next few decades there were occasional reports that Lavine was singing in the choir of a London church but as the years passed on fewer and fewer were the people who remembered a voice that Mojo magazine once described as having "a pure tone and a greater gift for melismatic cadences. . . In fact, for a time, Lavine was regarded as the UK's answer to Aretha Franklin. . . Her voice possessed a great elasticity and facility to communicate emotion." Indeed it did. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.


Reader Comments

Posted by S F Titrze in New Zealand @ 08:24 on Nov 4 2019

That was really sad to read of Lavine's death. I had no idea. I well remember the Intervention album and the follow up. It was a fantastic collection of soulful tunes.
I sang along with all of them. Her voice was rich in tone and I loved the harmonising. So sad that Lavine never got the attention she deserved but it would be even harder these days with soul music seemingly belonging to a different era now as melody is forgotten in place of the spoken word and barely any musical backing. RIP

Posted by Peter in Caribbean @ 15:38 on Oct 11 2019

Thank you for the well written it took me right back to the early 90s when I picked up the intervention album on Cassette...It was heartbreaking to see her not get the recognition she deserved, but she certainly had a solid fan base.

Posted by Teboho Sam Mokoena in Pretoria South Africa @ 23:06 on Jul 13 2019

I love her music, just bought this two albums and I am enjoying them. May Her Soul Rest In Peace..! 💕

Posted by Liz in Bath UK @ 20:24 on Oct 31 2018

I'm so sorry, I worked with Lavinia in Lloyds Bank Putney, we used to have such fun. We both loved sewing and music. She was a beautiful soul.

Posted by Fred W. Frank in Springfield IL USA @ 03:38 on Sep 26 2017

I am SO SORRY to learn of Lavines passing as well as the health issues that cut short her career. Back in the late 1980s I had seen a video of her on a local cable gospel/ christian music channel captivated not only by her amazing voice but her gorgeous beauty. Only wished id taped it. Only in the past few years was i able to find her online and i never thought to check her bio til now! (Kinda like Donna Summer here in the states whose hushed death many never heard of) Talk about two HOT ladies...WOW! Again, I am shocked and so sad. Between them and Whitney Houston Heaven must be resounding w music. Its too bad Lavine never reached Whitneys level of fame. She CERTAINLY had ALL THE TOOLS AND THEN SOME. An ABSOLUTELY AWESOME lady in every way! RIP Lavine. Know that your incomparable music lives on!

Posted by Michael in Amsterdam @ 23:56 on May 4 2017

Between Two Worlds is still in my top10 of favorite albums ever and to this day there has not been a month where I do not play one of those songs. Sheer brilliance and her singing was top notch! God bless her spirit. She did well! May she rest in the love she ushered into this world via her music.

Reply by Fred W Frank in Springfield @ 07:08 on Nov 7 2017

Michael if you thought the CD was something THE VIDEO took it to a whole nother dimension!! She was absolutely BEAUTIFUL!!

[report abuse]

Posted by Vee Greene in United States @ 00:34 on May 2 2017

I absolutely adored Ms Hudson, I had just ordered her 2 albums, then I got the shocking news. I am deeply saddened by this. Her talent was huge.

Posted by Juliet Fletcher in London @ 12:09 on Apr 23 2017

Hi Tony Cummings
My Dear Brother and Friend.

Thank you for a very informative piece. I know members of Lavine's family are pleased to have read it and feel it represents her musical story succinctly and well.

As always and ever a great article. Well written and flowing. It would be lovely to speak with you.

Lavine's Homegoing and Celebration of Live Service will be held at the Church her (late) father pastored: COGIC 102 Fentiman Road, London SW8 1QA. Start time: 10:00hrs - 13:00hrs.

Interment at Wansdworth Cemetery, Magdalen Road SW18 3ER

Refreshments and evening musical tribute featuring guests singers and musicians from British Gospel from 17:00hrs at COGIC Fentiman Road SW8 1QA

Posted by Jay Benjamin in Nottingham @ 21:57 on Apr 22 2017

I've really appreciated reading this write up.
Loved the voice of LH May she rest in eternal peace

Posted by Steve Alexander Smit @ 10:54 on Apr 22 2017

Great write-up Tony.

The opinions expressed in the Reader Comments are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms.

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